IBA WORLD FINALS 2007 Reviewed and more…

Updated: December 1, 2007

FBC_Culture_CentreThe 56th annual IBA meeting was held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan November 22nd-27th this year at the Kaohsiung Cutural Centre.   Each year these meetings are held in a different country.   For anyone interested you may be excited to know that next year the meeting will be held in the beautiful Puerto Rico.   The IBA meeting is the annual event that consists of the IBA board members as well as its representatives coming together to discuss each years progress in the International Bartenders Association.   As well as having their important meetings to discuss past, present, and future accomplishments, the IBA also has international classic cocktail and Flair bartending competitions for the entertainment of all attendees.




Out of all the competitions I have ever been to, I must admit the accommodations at the IBA world finals exceed all.   I arrived with Vladymyr a day after almost everyone else showed up and there was still someone waiting for us at the airport to make sure we made it to the hotel without having to pay for our own transportation.   We arrived too late to attend the welcome party that the IBA put on for all the attendants, but as well as everything else went that the IBA did for all the attendants, I am sure we missed a very nice party.   During that whole week each competitor had their own personal host who was there to take care of any questions or issues that may have come up.   The IBA provided three meals a day for all delegates and competitors and I must say I wasn’t too bad off being a spectator who happened to be traveling with a competitor.

FBC_Absolut_partyOn top of making sure everything went smooth for everyone attending there was entertainment everyday and cocktail parties every night in the hospitality suites that were put on by the sponsors.   These parties ensured a lot of fun among everyone attending and to make things even more amazing everyone was able to leave their wallets and their purses in their rooms.   The Absolut party was the best!   They provided silver wigs for everyone to wear and all competitors received a bottle of Absolut Pears that came in a plastic Absolut shaped covering designed to look like a disco ball.   On top of what they gave to everyone attending they had a DJ spinning music all night and go-go dancers for the enjoyment of most of the guys as well as some of the women.



The entertainment held each day outside the competition hall ranged from old men learning how to Flair on stage, to a little girl showing off her Flair and cocktail making skills.   This entertainment was ongoing every day and it was nice having alternate entertainment at a competition.   It gave people a chance to get up and stretch their legs in between each competitor or just during the really boring competitors.   After all the competitions were finished and the gala dinner was over the IBA arranged for those people still remaining the final day in Taiwan to go on a tour of the city of Kaohsiung.   Some people may or may not like the country of Taiwan after visiting it, but I am sure everyone can at least say no matter what their feelings of the country were they definitely took home some good memories of their visit to Kaohsiung thanks to the IBA.

FBC_Cocktail_WinnerDuring the beginning of the event after everyone was settled and ready for the competition to begin we were all transported over to the Culture Centre early in the morning the first day of competition.   That was the day of the cocktail competition.   This wasn’t my first time at a cocktail competition, but it was definitely the first time I have actually been entertained.   It was exciting to watch four competitors on stage competing at the same time.   At one point, our very own Rafa Arce representing Argentina popped his cherry in the classic mixology competition.    Not only was there a little bit of pressure on him since he had never done a competition like that before, but he was also put in between Ms Chang Wei Chen who was supported by the majority of the crowd since she was representing Taiwan and on the other side of Rafa was the champion from last year.   Take a look at the video to see a clip of how well the competition ended up going for Rafa.   The cocktail competition was won by Ms Krista Meri who was representing Estonia with her “Golden Autumn” which consisted of 2 cl Nemiroff Original, 2 cl Extra Dry Martini, 1 barspoon Di Saronno, 1cl Monin Green Apple and 2 barspoon Monin Lime Syrup garnished with apple, blueberry and cinnamon shaken and strained into a cocktail glass.   Overall, I would say the cocktail competition ran very smooth and most people were happy with the outcome.

Although everything seemed to go very well in the running of the overall event in Taiwan I wouldn’t go as far as saying everything was perfect.   For instance most professional Flair bartending competitors would cringe to know everything that goes into running the Flair competition at the IBA world finals.   You would be better off to sit back, take a deep breath, and try to relax yourself before reading the rest of this article because I am about to go into detail about one of the most interestingly run international level Flair competitions I have ever been to.

Terri_quote1I suppose the best place to begin would be with the meeting of all the Flair competitors.   Alex Beaumont, the Vice President of the Southern Hemisphere was the man leading the meeting.   As with everything else the IBA tried to take care of as much as they could for the competitors so they provided the glassware and the garnishes for the competitors, but in order for the IBA to have the appropriate glassware and garnishes they asked the competitors to have their drink recipes in three months before the competition.

Florian Beuren of Flairmotion was there representing Great Britain and during the meeting he noticed on the new updated sheets that the glassware he chose to use for his routine wasn’t on the list.   He chose his glassware off of the IBA website when preparing his cocktail and that specific glassware was part of his routine so he couldn’t just substitute it for another glass.   When explaining that to Alex Beaumont, Alex told Flo that he must have chosen that glassware off the website before it was updated. It seems to me that maybe the IBA should have updated their website in order for competitors to use it, especially since the recipes had to be in three months early and the glassware is part of the recipe.   Also, considering they had the recipe so far in advance that would have given the IBA plenty of time to inform Flo that his choice of glassware was unavailable.   Instead of taking credit for the mistake and apologizing for the inconvenience he caused Flo, Alex said “it’s not my problem.”  Needless to say there was a bit of an argument at that point, but all ended well when Salvadore Calabrese suggested we vote on whether or not Flo could use his own glassware if he were able to find it before the competition.   For those of you who don’t know who Salvadore is, he is a world renowned mixologist and also the personal bartender for Queen Elizabeth.   You may also be familiar with his book Classic Cocktails. Salvadore is the representative for Great Britain and he was there to make sure his Flair contestant, Flo wasn’t cheated before the competition began.

Another competitor ran into a problem with Alex after that meeting too.   When Laurent Winderickx from Belgium was asked to check his recipe in the program he noticed that Alex accidentally substituted Absolut vodka for SKYY Vodka.   When Laurent pointed that out to Alex he said that is was too bad.   The programs cost too much money to get reprinted and he told Laurent he has to make the drink the way his recipe says it is made.   I’m sure you can all assume how happy that made Laurent feel considering he was planning on doing a two bottle tin routine with his SKYY bottles, and now Alex expected him to use Absolut instead.   In the end, the judges allowed Laurent to use his SKYY bottles, but the matter of getting there was a hassle that was unnecessary.

During the meeting Alex admitted that the sponsors want to see Flair at these competitions because classic mixology is boring and Flair sells their products.   If this is what the sponsors want then why doesn’t the IBA take better care of the Flair competitors instead of making everything harder on them?   For instance, they could actually get a portable bar for competitors to compete on instead of tables.   They could trust competitors a little more.   There is a guard placed on each competitors bottles before their round so the competitor can’t touch his own bottles.   It just causes more stress to think that you are trying to get ready, but there is someone there preventing you for double checking everything.   Competitors also didn’t have barbacks for themselves so if they didn’t completely prepare before the guard was set on their bottles they were out of luck during competition time if they needed something else.   I realize they only have the Flair competition because the sponsors want it, but if they worked just a little bit harder to make it a more fun and fairly run competition then they would get more professional Flair bartenders to show up.   I think that would benefit the sponsors more to have experienced professionals on stage instead of rookies and it would definitely benefit the sport of Flair a lot more.   There were around 9,000 people from around the world involved with this event.   That means that Flair is getting introduced to a wide range of people and it would be great to see competitors other than beginners showing the world what we as Flair bartenders can really do.

To get a better understanding of how weird the Flair competition is at the IBA world finals take a look at the judges score sheet below.   I will also do my best to describe each category for you.


If you notice the first thing on the list is name association.   This is for the taste judges who judge the drink.   They taste the drink and then they determine whether or not the name the competitor came up for the drink actually fits the drink they made.   I don’t understand why anyone would think a category such as this would make any sort of sense.   How would the judges know how the competitors came up with the name and if they don’t know the story behind it how can they determine whether or not it is relevant?   It seems to me that a competition that is run by people who know so much about classic mixology would realize this doesn’t make sense.   What if Harry from Harry’s bar in New York had competed in a competition like this just after World War 1 and made his drink, the sidecar?   He would have probably scored 1 point in that category because the judges wouldn’t have known how he came up with the name for his drink.   To better understand what I am talking about I will tell the story.   Harry was a bartender in New York and just after the First World War a military captain used to come into his bar and create his own cocktail which is now known as the sidecar.   This military captain would show up to the bar in the sidecar of a chauffer driven bike.   That is how Harry came up with the name for the sidecar.   Not only is this a strange category to put into a Flair competition, if you look at the score sheet you will notice that you can actually score more points for this category than you can in the next one which is “Technical Flair”.

If you take a look a few more categories down the list you will see the category “Equipment Bottle Handling” which is the category for drops.   Most competitions we go to we know that if we drop any of the equipment used for Flair such as bottles, tins, strainers, tongs, or anything along those lines, each one is considered a drop.   Well, in the IBA that is not all.   Garnishes, napkins, straws, and yes… even ice are considered drops.   Alex Beaumont said in the meeting “if you are working behind a bar you aren’t going to throw a bunch of napkins in the air and let them fall to the ground so why would you do it on stage?”  I guess Alex has never been to a Flair bar before.

If you check out the scoring under the drops category you will notice that the levels range from excellent to poor.   Excellent means the competitor had a clean round and they will receive the full fifteen points and then it goes down from there.   Each drop is worth a different amount of points, but if you receive five or more drops you don’t receive any points in this category.   I guess if you are a competitor that generally has butter fingers on stage then this is a great category for you.   You could have twenty drops or more and someone who only has five will be judged as the same level in that category.   The broken bottle and spillage categories are judged the same way as well.

Even though the spillage category is judged the same way it is almost impossible for anyone competing with exhibition Flair to get a perfect score in this category.   A minimum amount of 1.5 ounces is required in each bottle.   If the IBA wants to see some good exhibition Flair then why are they demanding so much liquor to be in the bottles and if they prefer to see more Working Flair and this is their reasoning then why don’t they just make it a Working Flair competition instead and have the competitors fill their bottles up even more?

Terri_quote2I talked to one of the judges during the break between the two rounds and he even said they look more for Working Flair during each competitor’s routine.   They would prefer to see more of that than actual juggling.   This statement didn’t bother me so much until I talked to an IBA representative from California who said he overheard the judges talking after one of the competitors.   A couple of them actually said the competitor shouldn’t be scored so high on difficulty because he did too much three bottle stuff rather than just Working Flair.   Their argument was that juggling isn’t Flair so they shouldn’t get scored for it.

Another category that gave the judges a reason to judge unfairly is the entertainment value.   There are four things the judges look for in this category.   They are: is the competitor in time with the music, is he wearing a costume, is there a theme, and was the show entertaining.   I would argue, in order to be entertaining, I don’t think competitors who are really good at Flair have to wear a costume and dance around on stage rather than Flair while they are up there.   Of course the judges don’t agree with this.   If there is no costume there are no points for entertainment.   The judge I talked to during the break came up to me after the top three results were announced and asked if I agreed with the outcome.   I said “no”.   I definitely agreed that Danilo Oribe won.   He was very good on stage and had a very clean round and the crowd loved him.   He came out and proved why he is the most successful Flair competitor in IBA history.   On the other hand, the other two had so many mistakes it is hard to believe just wearing a costume could save them.   There were more drops than average and even a break in one of their routines.   Their Flair also wasn’t as smooth or even near as difficult as the people they beat for the top positions.   There wasn’t much variety with their Flair either.   Although their shows were very entertaining and I will admit, I did enjoyed them as much as the rest of the crowd, but take away the costumes and I think most people would have been bored with their Flair.

I wish I could better describe every competitor’s routine in at least the top ten, but there were 39 competitors and they didn’t take the top competitors of the day to compete against each other in the end.   I’m not exactly sure why the IBA didn’t do that this year, but they did in the past.   I was actually expecting along with much of the crowd that they would have a final of at least the top five or six, but they didn’t even announce that it wasn’t going to be that way this year.   A lot of spectators were left confused when we were waiting for them to announce the finalists, but instead they broke down the stage and started cleaning up before they announced the top three winners.

FBC_IBA2007_DOribeI mentioned before that Danilo won the competition. This was his third IBA world Flair title, which makes him the most successful Flair competitor in the IBA world finals since they began this competition eight years ago.   Danilo came out and had an amazingly clean round that we always expect to see from him with only one drop.   He knew what he had to do to come out and win.   He did the theme Taiwanian (instead of Miami) Vice, but add a great tasting drink to that and you have an IBA world champion once again!

Second place went to Stefan Haneder from Austria who came out and put on an amusing show in a superman costume.   He had a lot of energy on stage and it was also great to see the energy and happiness you knew he was feeling when he received the trophy for second place.

Third place went to Taiwan’s very own Hsu Po-Sheng. He had an unfortunate mishap with a broken bottle, but his very entertaining Spiderman show kept him in the running. He not only had on the costume, but he moved around on stage just like he was Spiderman. He had a very entertaining round to watch and he definitely made all of Taiwan proud to see him in the top three.

Although he didn’t get to take home a trophy; Lukas Mocha from Germany accomplished something to be proud of, which insured him fourth place. With the average drink score of all competitors being only 60 points he came out and amazed the judges with his drink receiving a total score of 102.   Here is the recipe for his drink Flair Affaire:   3 cl Possoa, 2 cl Fresh Cream, 2 cl Monin Lemon Pie, 1 cl Monin Caramel, 8 cl Caraibos Maracuja Passionfruit, 3 cl Caraibos Mora Blackberr and garnished with pitahaya, blackberry and lime spiral. Blend with ice and serve.

Coming in fifth place was Vladymyr Buryanov who represented Ukraine. He came and didn’t throw as many big moves as we would normally see from him, but his crowd was still there and he put on a good show with some Flair that most of us wish we will be able to do in ten years if we start practicing to do so now.

Sixth place went to Tomasz Hadrys from Poland. He did have quite a few familiar moves I have seen before, but even so it was nice to see another person on that stage that moved fluidly and didn’t seem to struggle with anything he was doing.


The next couple competitors slip my mind, but coming in ninth place was a huge surprise to me. Rafa Arce from Argentina had one of my favorite rounds of the day. With only one drop, some very original and difficult moves and a drink that was scored above average most people would have expected him to place higher. His show was very entertaining, but the judges said it was the lack of costume that put him so far behind everyone else that he should have beat.

Going back to the actual conversation I had with the judge during the break, I asked him a few questions about the competition and how they judge.   He is a very nice guy and helped me understand their thinking a lot more, but the amount of Flair experience he explained all the judges had left me wondering whether or not they are actually qualified to judge an international level finals competition.   Most of the judges actually do have some Flair experience and they have seen a lot of Flair in their time, but I pointed out my concern to him that they just don’t see enough now to determine whether or not the competitors they are watching are being innovative with their moves.   I also brought up the concern that some of the best competitors I saw all day were not only doing Christian Delpech’s moves, but they were doing whole routines created by Christian and using his music as well.   I asked if the judges realized that too.   He said they know enough about Flair to know when they see something original or not because they follow it enough and… here’s the kicker!   He said they know the two best Flair bartenders in the world right now are Nicolas St. Jean and Christian Delpech so they compare everyone to those two Flair bartenders.   I’m not trying to discredit Nicolas or Christian, but I am not naive enough to think that they are the only two great Flair bartenders out there and I don’t think all competitors should be compared to them either.

FBC_IBA2007_Flair_Scores_smWhen confronted by competitors at the meeting about changing the rules Alex Beaumont said they have been doing this for eight years and they know what works.   Maybe some day he will realize that the reason all competitors complain about the rules is because the IBA hasn’t figured out what really works.   If they would learn to respect the experienced competitors and listen to suggestions it would be a huge step to getting professionals to compete in their competition.

If you only knew how many of the competitors there were at a very rookie level competing in Taiwan you would be surprised.   There were so many competitors on that world finals stage that had to stop and take a deep breath before attempting a rookie move.   The FBA and so many other people around this world are trying so hard to make Flair a respectable sport, but when you get such a huge organization discrediting Flair the way the IBA does instead of helping all of us with true love of the sport, then I believe that forces all of us to take one more step backwards.   As big as the IBA is and how many people they reach, then I would say it is safe to assume that one step backwards is a pretty big one.   I think that is a big shame.   I do realize that the IBA only does the Flair competition just to entertain and they don’t have the passion for it like most of us do, but with the sources they have it would be awesome to one day see them helping all Flair bartenders grow this sport into a sport that is respected by all and not just something to spice up their competition a little bit.

I hope one day the few people of the IBA in charge of the Flair competition will realize that we are not all just a bunch of bottle flippers and jugglers.   We are all bartenders and we are some of the best bartenders in the world.   We deserve the same respect all types of competing bartenders around the world get.   Just listen to us when we have suggestions and don’t shoot down our ideas.   Most of us have enough experience to know what we are talking about.


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